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Using contract buses will continue in District 833

District 833 will continue using contract buses, at an annual cost of $175,000, to ensure elementary school buses arrive on time, said Gary Dechaine, School District 833 transportation director.

The School Board reviewed the district's transportation budget at a workshop June 3.

Preliminary routing plans for 2010-2011 show that two contracted buses might be eliminated, but the remaining buses are needed until there is a change in school start times.

The problem with late buses started when start times changed last fall and drivers discovered they did not have enough time to complete middle school routes and get to elementary schools on time; causing five to 30-minute delays.

The district added 10 contract buses to ease the problem, but a consultant study stated changing school start times for non-public schools would solve it.

The law requires public school districts to bus students to non-public schools within the district and also allows them to set pick-up and drop-off times, according to Dechaine.

Superintendent Mark Porter told the board that start-times for non-public schools won't be done this coming year because there's not enough time to talk with those schools. Another reason to put off new start times is that a change this fall would be the third in three years, he said.

The transportation budget for next year shows a $1.4 million deficit that will be covered with unallocated general fund money.

The actual operating cost is about $750,000, said district finance director Aaron Bushberger, because buying seven new buses for $636,000 was moved forward from last year's budget.

Money for transporting students comes from the state, a levy for Valley Crossing School alternate calendar days, field trips and interest earnings, which are expected to be down $10,000 from last year, according to Bushberger.

All 1996 model buses, and considerable maintenance, will be eliminated, Dechaine said, adding that buses have about a 10-year use span.

Though the cost of diesel fuel is up 18 percent, the district is still saving money by contracting with a state consortium to buy gas, he said.

The price of contract diesel is $2.28 a gallon through the end of the year and estimated to be $3.50 a gallon for the remainder of the year.

A slight decrease in office and administrative costs is projected, but there is an 11.64 percent, or $700,000, increase in driver costs.

Due to the addition of a half-time mechanic to cut costs for outside contracting, operating costs in that department are up about 10 percent.

In answer to a question from board member Marsha Adou about using alternate fuels, Dechaine said all district buses run on diesel fuel.

The only alternative is propane, he said.

District buses get about 8 miles per gallon. They would get 4 miles per gallon using propane. Since the current cost of propane is the same as diesel, it's not economical, Dechaine said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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